|"Training and Working with Oxen"
Care of Your Oxen's Feet
Because the ox is a work animal, the health of his feet is very important to both his well-being and the work which he is being asked to do. Therefore choose animals with healthy legs and feet, and then be sure to take whatever care of their hooves that is needed.
Below are pictures of a shoeing stock and an ox being shod.
Proper foot care begins at an early age as young calves have their legs handled and their feet picked up. This is an important training step to ready the animals for the foot care when they are older.
Keeping an animal's feet sound requires a combination of choosing animals that are free from obvious or hereditary hoof problems, keeping their feet routinely trimmed as necessary, and ensure that they are not housed on wet ground. Also, adequate exercise is very important, as animals with good conformation and adequate exercise may ever need their feet trimmed. As an ox's hoof grows enough to replace itself in one year, exercise is needed to help keep the hooves worn down.
The healthy ox hoof should have a short toe and a high heel (the space between the hairline-just below the dew claws) and the ground, similiar to the shape of a calf a few weeks old.
Just beneath the ox's hoof wall lies a layer, called the corium, that contains the nerve and blood supply. It is very important not to injure this layer as it is responsible for the growing of a healthy hoof. In order to protect the corium, proper hoof care is essential.
The front and outsides of an ox's toes wear slower than the insides and backs of each toe. Because of this, an unshod animal without enough exercise and regular trimming may grow long toes and begin to walk cow-hocked, with the toes of its hooves spreading apart. This condition is emphasized if the animal is kept on hard ground or on concrete as the inside and heel of each toe will wear down even more quickly, accentuating the problem further.
As the animal's hooves become deformed, the toe becoming elongated and the heel becoming worn away, the angle of their feet is tilted. This causes the downward pressure of the bone, that is within the toe of the hoof, to change from a broad pressure near the center of the hoof to a small, sharp pressure near the back of the hoof. This pinpointed pressure pinches and injures the corium. If the pressure is great enough and long enough, permanant damage occures and the corium is no longer able to produce a healthy hoof wall. If a hoof is let get badly distorted than it is nearly impossible to get it back to normal. Although proper care can still help a great deal, the best thing is to be careful not to let the distortion occur.
As the hoof grows at about 5mm. (3/8") a month, the purpose of regular trimming is to :
To trim the hoof, begin by cutting the hoof back so that it is three inches from the top of the hoof wall (where the hoof and hair join) to where the toes touch the ground. It is very important not to cut this too short or the corium will be exposed to injury. If you are not sure where to cut, cut on the longer side.
Next trim the outer walls of the hoof with a pincers perpendicular with the bottom of the hoof, taking care to trim it in a way that it would wear off naturally. Using the pincers, also trim off excess sole.
Remember that the heel wears down relatively easily on its own and so in most cases does not need trimming. The heel should be high and the toe short, therefore take care little or nothing off the heel either with the pincers or with the rasp.
Now rasp the bottom of the foot, starting from the heel and working towards the toe. Put very little to no pressure on the heel end of the rasp, with most of the pressure at the toe end. The hoof wall and the sole should be level.
Finally using a hoof knife pare away the sole, taking more out of the middle, and very little to nothing out of the heel. Take care to leave at least 5-7mm (1/4") of sole to protect the corium. The sole should be indented so that the hoof wall takes most of the animal's weight. IMPORTANT: when the sole feels soft to the pressure of your thumb, DO NOT trim any deeper!
The finished hoof should have a flat weight bearing surface underneath, with the main pressure of the foot being towards the center. The toes should be perpendicular to one another when viewed from the back.
- keep the weight distribution even between the two toes of each hoof
- leave enough outer hoof wall to protect the corium
- keep the hooves in a normal shape and angle
- create a level hoof that will best protect the corium
Shoeing an ox requires someone experienced in this type of work. Improper shoeing can result in the toes crossing each other, the shoe rolling inwards or outwards, or if the nails are too close to the inside flesh, lameness.
The shoeing of oxen is much different than the shoeing of horses. One difference is the that the wall of the ox's hoof is thinner than that of a horse. If there is 3/16" wall thickness on an ox, that would be thick. The other important difference is that the oxen has two toes on each hoof which require that the shoes on each toe need to be aligned. Usually oxen need to be shod if they will be doing heavy pulling, working on ice and snow, working on hard rocky ground, or walking on pavement.
Cast iron shoes can be purchased from various sources, one being Centaur Forge, Burlington, WI, USA. These come in various sizes, but the drawback to them is that they are not quite as sturdy , and they do not fit the straighter hind feet as well. Shoes can also be made from an iron bar. They are bent on a forge and then the nail holes are punched out. And shoes can be cut from flat steel and the holes punched or drilled. With this method caulks can be welded on for an animal that will be needing the extra traction.
To begin, put the ox in the shoeing stock and use the belly bands to lift him enough that he is held up without taking his feet off the ground. Tie a foot securely back onto the blocking. With a hoof knife, trim the hoof, looking for problems. Rasp the hoof, one toe at a time, taking care to create a flat even surface. (See above instructions for the proper way to rasp an ox's hoof. Do not rasp if the sole is already soft after paring with the knife.
Fit the shoes to have a good cover of the heels and not too far forward. It is important to use small horeshoeing nails, and to nail just inside the hoof wall and towards the outside. The nails will stick out and need to have the access nipped off. Nail the middle nail first, taking care not to let the shoe slide ahead. Then put in an end nail to keep the shoe in place. Cut the nails off as you go to prevent an injury should the ox's foot get loose from it's bonds. Finally clinch or bend the nails with a clamp so they will not fall out.
Footcare of oxen in Atlantic Canada
In the oxen country on Canada's east coast, regular hoof trimming is the norm for both dairy cattle and oxen. For the dairy cattle there are people that have portable units that go around and trim their hooves, but for oxen an ox sling or shoeing stock is needed.
In Nova Scotia, the ground is very rocky and cattle often break off pieces of their hoof and so this is one reason the Nova Scotians keep their oxen shod. Once an ox has been kept shod, the sole of the hoof becomes very thin and if they lose a shoe they find it very uncomfortable to walk on gravel, although the sole will thicken again over several months if they are left to go without shoes. Besides the shoes keeping the hooves from chipping off, they are also good for traction. In the photo on the moving the boat that is on the Natural Power page, one team of oxen were shod and the other team was barefoot. The barefoot pair had trouble getting footing on the asphalt street and fell to their knees a couple times. The pair that were shod had no problems and you could see small holes in the street from the caulks on their shoes.
If you need further information, click on: Oxen Resources and look for the video by Jeff Dearborn called "Cattle Hoofcare".
Prairie Ox Drovers' Home Page